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Scholarship research begins in earnest

posted on January 28, 2011
The first of 32 sample plots studying the effect of tree type and wood type on decomposer communities

The first of 32 sample plots studying the effect of tree type and wood type on decomposer communities

The first research plots have been established in Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire by our Sylva Scholar, Kirsty Monk.  This marks the start of a two and a half year project studying the effects of climate change, invasive events and woodland management strategies on the fungal communities therein.

Kirsty has placed split logs in 32 sample plots in the woodland.  These will be monitored at two-monthly intervals to study the  preferences of fungi for different tree species, fungi growth patterns and differences in the rate of decomposition of different wood types.

This is the first of many experiments taking place in the research project to tackle these questions, and news of these will be added as they get underway.

Read more about the Sylva Scholarship research project

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Sylva Scholarship launched

posted on October 11, 2010
Plant Sciences

The Sylva Scholarship was launched in October 2010 in a partnership between the Sylva Foundation and the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford. The theme of the Sylva Scholarship is

healthy trees and productive forests.

This reflects a joint vision between the Sylva Foundation and the Department of Plant Sciences to manage forest resources based on a fundamental understanding of forest ecosystems.

The  Sylva Scholarship programme will be administered by the Department of Plant Sciences, with the expectation that there will be a rolling programme of research students in the coming years.  The first Sylva Scholar, Oxford Graduate Kirsty Monk, is undertaking a study to investigate the possible impacts of forest management on woodland ecosystems.

Kirsty’s project is entitled ‘The consequences of management and climate change for ecosystem function: a case study of cord-forming fungi in English woodlands’.  The study will examine whether changes to the management regime and species composition of broadleaved woodlands are likely to have a significant impact on ecosystem function.  Impact will be monitored by examining the effects on an important group of ‘ecosystem engineers’ – the cord-forming fungi.  The research is supported by scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, and from the Natural History Museum, London.

Sylva Foundation CEO, Dr Gabriel Hemery, said “This is an important initiative under our Science programme, promoting sustainable forest management through research and communication.  Our support of a research studentship at one of the world’s leading departments of plant sciences enables us to tackle head on some of the most significant threats facing Britain’s trees and forests in the future, while realising opportunities too.”  He added “This particular research project will hopefully be the first of many and we are delighted to be supporting Kirsty in her work towards achieving a DPhil at the university.”

Professor Liam Dolan, Director of Graduate Studies in the Oxford Plant Sciences Department explained “We are fortunate in the UK in that our forests are currently valued as much for their biodiversity, carbon storage and environmental services as they are for their capacity to produce useable wood. However, the growing emphasis on reducing carbon emissions through increased use of locally produced timber and biofuel will provide a powerful incentive to make these woods more productive. It is therefore important that the effects that management for production will have on biodiversity and other environmental services are fully understood.”

Dr David Bass, from the Natural History Museum in London, added “the application of molecular biology to study the biodiversity and ecology of organisms that cannot be distinguished by their morphology alone – such as cord-forming fungi – is a rapidly developing field. The Sylva Scholarship will contribute greatly to training Kirsty in these techniques, which are fundamental skills for a modern biologist and are widely transferable to other areas of research. Her project will exploit an exciting synergy between molecular biology and forest ecology, which will throw new light on the ecology of wood decomposition – a key ecosystem service in woodlands and forests.”

Read more on our Forestry Horizons website

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Ash dieback is predicted to cost £15 billion in Britain

posted on May 6, 2019

A research paper of considerable importance has been published today, which estimates the cost of ash dieback in Britain to be £15 billion. Sylva Foundation took a central role in the work, the research being led by Oxford-Sylva scholar Dr Louise Hill while she completed her DPhil at the University of Oxford under the Oxford-Sylva Graduate Scholarship programme (now sadly lapsed due to lack of funding). Sylva Foundation CEO Dr Gabriel Hemery acted as an external supervisor for Dr Hill, and is a co-author of the paper.

A team of researchers from the University of Oxford, Fera Science, Sylva Foundation and the Woodland Trust has calculated the true economic cost of Ash dieback – and the predictions, published today in Current Biology, are staggering:

  • The total cost of Ash dieback to the UK is estimated to be £15 billion
  • Half of this (£7 billion) will be over the next 10 years
  • The total cost is 50 times larger than the annual value of trade in live plants to and from Britain, which is the most important route by which invasive plant diseases enter the country
  • There are 47 other known tree pests and diseases that could arrive in Britain and which may cost an additional £1 billion or more

The predicted costs arise from clearing up dead and dying trees and in lost benefits provided by trees, e.g. water and air purification and carbon sequestration. The loss of these services is expected to be the biggest cost to society, while millions of ash trees also line Britain’s roads and urban areas, and clearing up dangerous trees will cost billions of pounds.

Dr Louise Hill, researcher at Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study, said:

‘The numbers of invasive tree pests and diseases are increasing rapidly, and this is mostly driven by human activities, such as trade in live plants and climate change. Nobody has estimated the total cost of a tree disease before, and we were quite shocked at the magnitude of the cost to society. We estimate the total may be £15 billion – that’s a third more than the reported cost of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001. The consequences of tree diseases for people really haven’t been fully appreciated before now.’

Dr Nick Atkinson, senior conservation advisor for the Woodland Trust and co-author of the paper, said:

‘When Ash dieback first entered the country, no one could have fully predicted the devastating impact it would have on our native habitats. To see how this has also affected our economy speaks volumes for how important tree health is, and that it needs to be taken very seriously. It is clear that to avoid further economic and ecological impacts, we need to invest more in plant biosecurity measures. This includes better detection, interception and prevention of other pests and diseases entering the country. We need to learn from past mistakes and make sure our countryside avoids yet another blow.’

The scientists say that the total cost could be reduced by replanting lost ash trees with other native trees, but curing or halting the disease is not possible. They advise that the government’s focus now has to be on preventing introductions of other non-native diseases to protect our remaining tree species.


  • A nationwide replanting scheme could reduce the overall cost by £2.5 billion, by ensuring that lost ecosystem services are replaced
  • Greater focus on and investment in biosecurity and sourcing of safe plant material is needed to keep new diseases out
  • Introduce far tighter controls on imports of all live plants for planting, as this is the largest pathway through which tree diseases are introduced


Ash dieback is a fungal disease, originally from Asia, which is lethal to Europe’s native ash trees. It was first found in Britain in 2012 and is thought to have been brought to the UK years earlier on infected imported ash trees. It is expected to kill 95-99% of ash trees in Britain.


Read the full paper here:

Paper DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.03.033



For more information or to request images, please contact the University of Oxford press office at or 01865 280730.

Or the Woodland Trust press office at or 01476 581121

Notes to editors

The University of Oxford has been placed number 1 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the third year running, and at the heart of this success is its ground-breaking research and innovation. The university is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Their work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of its research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions.

Sylva Foundation is an environmental charity working to bring trees and people closer together. It formed the Oxford-Sylva Graduate Scholarship, which co-funded lead author Dr Louise Hill, to foster a robust tree and forest resource in the face of environmental change. It has played a lead role in developing a climate change action plan for Britain’s forests.

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife. The Trust has three key aims:  i) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable, ii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life, iii) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife. Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering over 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.

Fera Science Limited, formerly the Food and Environment Research Agency, is a joint private/public sector venture between Capita plc and Defra. Using original thinking applied to support sustainable global food security our vision is to support our partners to respond to the challenges ahead through original thinking and world-class science. Fera turns expertise and innovation into ways to support and develop a sustainable food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks.

This work was partially funded by the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

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Maintaining ecosystem properties after loss of ash in Great Britain

posted on September 5, 2018

The latest research paper arising from work supported under our Oxford-Sylva Graduate Scholarship has been published.

Our scholar Dr Louise Hill, who successfully defended her DPhil thesis earlier this year, researched the ecological consequences of ash dieback disease in Great Britain. The paper is the second peer-reviewed output arising from her work, while one more is in the pipeline which considers the financial impacts of the disease.

Hill, L, G Hemery, A Hector, and N Brown. 2018. “Maintaining Ecosystem Properties after Loss of Ash in Great Britain.” Journal of Applied Ecology 00: 1–12.

A figure extracted from Hill et al. 2018


  1. Acute outbreaks of pests and disease are increasingly affecting tree populations around the world, causing widespread ecological effects. In Britain, ash dieback Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (Baral et al.) has severe impacts on common ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) populations, and the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) is likely to add to the impact in future. This will cause significant changes to the character and functioning of many ecosystems. However, the nature of these changes and the best approach for conserving ecosystems after ash loss are not clear.
  2. We present a method to locate those areas most ecologically vulnerable to loss of a major tree species (common ash) and identify the resultant damage to distinctive ecosystem properties. This method uses the functional traits of species and their distributions to map the potential degree of change in traits across space and recommend management approaches to reduce the change. An analytic hierarchy process is used to score traits according to ecological importance.
  3. Our results indicate that in some areas of Britain, provision of ash‐associated traits could be reduced by over 50% if all ash is lost. Certain woodland types, and trees outside woodlands, may be especially vulnerable to ash loss. However, compensatory growth by other species could halve this impact in the longer term.
  4. We offer management guidance for reducing ecosystem vulnerability to ash loss, including recommending appropriate alternative tree species to encourage through planting or management in particular areas and woodland types.
  5. Synthesis and applications. The method described in this paper allows spatially explicit assessment of species traits to be used in the restoration of ecosystems for the first time. We offer practical recommendations for the ash dieback outbreak in Britain to help conserve functional traits in ecosystems affected by the loss of ash. This technique is widely applicable to a range of restoration and conservation scenarios and represents a step forward in the use of functional traits in conservation.

Related papers:

Hill, L, A Hector, G Hemery, S Smart, M Tanadini, and N Brown. 2017. “Abundance Distributions for Tree Species in Great Britain: A Two-Stage Approach to Modeling Abundance Using Species Distribution Modeling and Random Forest.” Ecology and Evolution 7 (4): 1043–56.

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Rising from the ashes

posted on February 19, 2018

Guest blog by Sylva Scholar, Louise Hill

We congratulate Louise Hill on successfully defending her DPhil at the University of Oxford. Louise is the third (and sadly final) Oxford-Sylva scholar. Over the last four years she has been researching the impacts of ash dieback. Here Louise describes in her own words what she has achieved, and what our support has meant to her personally.  Well done Louise!

It’s been a long road to get here, but four and a half years after starting I have finally finished my DPhil. As the Sylva Scholar, I have been extremely privileged to complete my project at the University of Oxford, with opportunities to meet top scientists, speak at international conferences, and produce the best research that I am capable of.

Louise Hill in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

Louise Hill, Sylva scholar, in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

My research project looked at various different aspects of the ash dieback outbreak in Britain. This disease is one of the most important contemporary challenges to the health of our woods and trees. An invasive fungal pathogen (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) [Ed. formerly known as Chalara fraxinea], it threatens the future of common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) as a dominant tree in Britain. The impacts of this loss will be widespread: over the coming decades we are likely to see significant impacts on the health of woodland and non-woodland ecosystems, on associated biodiversity, and on human health and wellbeing as the benefits of ash trees to society are lost.

My project was broad and investigated impacts in many of these areas.

  • I carried out experimental work to clarify the impacts of ash loss on woodland ground flora and invertebrate communities.
  • I modelled the distributions of trees and their associated traits and functions (with a paper published in Ecology and Evolution: This allowed me to investigate the areas and ecosystem types most vulnerable ash loss, and to develop management guidance to help mitigate this loss (paper in review).
  • In my final year, I investigated the economic impacts, an ambitious project which I am now developing further with collaborators at the Woodland Trust and Fera, and which we hope will produce a high-impact publication with political significance.

Hill et al Ecology&Evolution

Hill et al. (2007) Ecology&Evolution

It’s been a lot of hard work, but I have come away with something I feel really proud of: a project that I could make fully my own, that I believe has contributed to both the scientific understanding of the disease and to practical measures to reduce its harm.

None of this would have been possible without support and input from the Sylva Foundation: the scholarship gave me a fantastic opportunity, and I have tried my best to make the most of it. This experience culminated a couple of weeks ago in an invitation to attend a Plant Health and Biosecurity conference at Highgrove, contributing directly to ideas for future policy.

I hope in the future I can carry on working on research in tree diseases in the future, as this project has given me a real drive to continue in this important area.

Louise Hill

[Note from Ed: Louise Hill’s thesis will soon be available online. We will publish a link as soon as possible.]

More about the Sylva Scholarship

Sadly Louise is our third and final Oxford-Sylva Graduate Scholar, as we have been unsuccessful in fundraising sufficiently to appoint a new student.

Read more stories from our Sylva Scholars

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Congratulations to Dr Kirsty Monk

posted on March 12, 2015

Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk conducting fieldwork mapping fungal cords

Oxford-Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk conducting fieldwork mapping fungal cords at Wytham Woods in 2012

Congratulations to Dr Kirsty Monk, our first Oxford-Sylva scholar (2010-14), who passed her DPhil viva voce last week!

Kirsty studied the role of cord-forming fungi in British woodlands at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, and has since started pursuing a career as a science teacher.

We will make available the full thesis in the near future.

Read more about the Oxford-Sylva scholarship

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Annual review 2013-14 published

posted on October 3, 2014

Sylva Annual Review 2013-14

Sylva Annual Review 2013-14

Our Annual Review, covering the period April 2013 to March 2014 has been published online.

Chair of Trustees, Dr Nick Brown, introduced the report, writing:

This, our fifth year, has been both fruitful and eventful.

We joined a consortium successful in gaining €1.95 million from the EU’s Life+ programme to deliver NaturEtrade a web-based system that enables EU landowners to assess the provision of ecosystem services on their land. Our second Sylva Scholar started research on the consequences of Chalara ash dieback on ecosystem services. We gained funding for the Living Ash Project – to identify ash trees across Britain with tolerance to Chalara.

The Foundation has been developing its Education Strategy with expert advice from Jen Hurst. Sponsorship of an artist-in-residence in support of a book – The New Sylva – concluded. In partnership with several organisations we launched SilviFuture: a new network established to promote and share knowledge about novel forest species across Britain. We welcomed Paul Orsi as our Director for Forestry & Rural Enterprise. In partnership with DIY retailer B&Q and sustainability charity BioRegional, we created the Good Woods initiative, delivering advice to 235 owners of under-managed woods, covering 10,900 hectares, across SE and E England. We also developed the Woodland Star Rating supporting 300 woodland owners in understanding ecosystem services and the public benefit derived from good woodland stewardship. Users of the myForest service continued to grow – at the end of the year we were supporting 1691 woodland owners, owning 2591 woodlands, covering 30,106ha.

A major donation was received of 8 hectares of land, including farm buildings, in South Oxfordshire. The gift was made to help secure the charity’s long-term future, and specifically to assist in the development of a centre for innovation in home-grown wood under a new charitable object and associated work programme known as ‘Wood’.

We hope you enjoy reading more about our work during the past year and plans for the future. To download the report or to read an interactive page-turning version click here.


Category: Announcements

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Calling woodland owners – help wanted in ash dieback research

posted on March 13, 2014

Sylva Scholar Louise Hill – who is studying the consequences of Chalara ash dieback in British woodlands (read more) – is looking for woodland sites in the south of Britain where she could set up her experiments. If you are a woodland owner, perhaps you could help her?

Louise Hill, Sylva Scholar

Louise Hill, Sylva Scholar

Louise explains:

I am looking for areas of deciduous woods, with ash mixed in to it ideally at a density of around 300 stems/ha (i.e., not an ash monoculture). Within each site I want to set up at least one (ideally two or three) blocks of plots; each block will contain three plots of 25 x 25m, one of which will have 100% of the ash ring-barked, one 50% and on 0% (control). The experiment will look into the effects of loss of ash trees on growth rates of the remaining trees, recruitment of seedlings of other species (ash seedlings will be removed), and also effects on the ground flora. It will also look into any interactions with deer abundance for these effects. I am looking for sites in Oxfordshire, Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

If you have a suitable site, and are prepared to have some ash trees sacrificed in this way, please contact Louise directly to discuss further. She can be reached at

Read more about the Sylva Scholarship



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Summary of woodland conference at Oxford University

posted on December 2, 2013

2013 – An Extraordinary Year for England’s Woodlands

Sylva’s day course, run in association with the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford, attracted some 35 delegates on Saturday.

Attendees heard how England’s woodlands have provided for mankind’s needs for many centuries, leading to a strong culture of appreciating and using wood, yet in recent decades the care and management of England’s woodlands has declined.  With unprecedented threats from environmental change, pests and diseases, the sustainable management of our woodlands need to be embraced as part of a revitalised wood culture for the 21st Century.

There were some changes in the advertised programme, with two speakers having to pull out for personal reasons, however the alternative speakers provided excellent presentations.

Robin Buxton talk

Robin Buxton talk

The day was introduced by Robin Buxton who provided the evolutionary and global context for the day’s talks. He demonstrated the need to get the balance right between economic and ecological needs, drawing especially upon his experiences of working in Africa.

Gabriel Hemery talk

Gabriel Hemery talk

Gabriel Hemery provided a history of our trees from 1000 A.D. and how they have supported civilisation in this country. His presentation made us think about our intrinsic views and values of nature and how they relate to the trees and woodlands around us.

Alistair Yeomans talk

Alistair Yeomans talk

Alistair Yeomans provided an overview of a what a ‘wood culture’ means and how the forestry community can consider communicating this to wider society. He continued to give an overview of the evolving world of Corporate Social Responsibility and described to the audience the Good Woods project that the Sylva Foundation is currently carrying out with B&Q, BioRegional and Lantern. Alistair presented Dr Derek Nicholls from the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, with a limited edition portrait of the OneOak tree (available to purchase from our online shop) as a token of appreciation for his support in collaborating with Sylva staff in the British Woodlands 2012 survey.

Robert Penn talk

Robert Penn talk

Rob Penn described eloquently the fun and challenges of woodland management. He talked about the making of the BBC4 programme Tales from the Wildwood and its popularity which surprised TV executives. He introduced his latest project following the life of an ash tree, describing meetings with hurley stick makers, furniture makers and wheelwrights. His work literally brings forestry to life by focussing on the many products that we all use and love – introducing sustainable forest management to a general public audience.

Oxford Researchers talks

Oxford Researchers talks

Louise Hill and Jessica Needham reported on the revival of temperate forestry activity at Oxford University. It was great to hear from the new cohort of forest researchers, both Sylva scholars and otherwise. Their talks exemplified the need and importance for sound research that we can convert into effective policy. Both their DPhil research projects are associated with Chalara ash dieback: Louise dealing with the consequences of the disease of ecosystem services such as carbon and biodiversity, Jessica focussing on the pathogen responsible. Their efforts are needed now, more than ever and it was reassuring that forestry research is in such intelligent, dedicated hands.

The New Sylva talk - Gabriel Hemery

The New Sylva talk – Gabriel Hemery

Gabriel Hemery returned to the floor to talk about the making of The New Sylva to be published by Bloomsbury in 2014. This perhaps will be the most visually compelling version of a wood culture. One that will reach far beyond the forest. It further builds on a tremendous legacy of forestry and woodland appreciation in this country.

Throughout the day delegates were introduced to many examples of agents for change; these took the form of books, art, television, research and web technology. It is such vehicles that are needed to infuse the importance of trees and woodlands into the heart of society. Hopefully all of these efforts will contribute to the wood culture that will shape a future where society cares for our tree and woodland resources in the best way possible.

We thank all of the speakers and the delegates for participating in some great debates and question sessions. Perhaps the notion of a wood culture was epitomised by a discussion between two delegates: one a woodland owner about the difficulties of communicating positively to members of the public about their management activities, the other a house owner who asked how she could be better informed about woodland management beyond her back garden.

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Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands

posted on July 9, 2013

Sylva scholar Kirsty Monk, has co-authored a paper published in the Royal Forestry Society‘s journal this month. It describes the role and importance of the lesser known group of ecosystem engineers in British woodlands; cord-forming fungi. With fellow author Gabriel Hemery, they examine the extent of our fungal knowledge and discuss their implications for forestry in the future.

Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do

Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do

The authors end with a salient and practical point for all woodland owners:

“The time has come to consider all components of woodland ecosystems when managing for timber or woodland products. Future improvements to timber yields and woodland health will lie in improving nutrient cycling and woodland resilience, especially in the light of projected environmental change and the uncertainly it presents to woodland owners and managers.”

Monk, K. and Hemery, G. (2013). Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 107, 3, 197-202.

The article is freely available to download from the Forestry Horizons library, with kind permission of the Royal Forestry Society.


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